Woody Allen’s bad personal choices had at least one major artistic ramification: he could no longer collaborate with Mia Farrow. The Purple Rose of Cairo might have been filed with his relatively minor films if not for her (though, to be fair, her presence didn’t rescue Broadway Danny Rose or Alice from that file). Her performance as Cecilia, a Depression-era victim of domestic abuse who finds solace escaping into movies—or specifically, one particular movie called The Purple Rose of Cairo—elevates the film of the same name to one of Allen’s very best.
The magical conceit is that the movie ends up escaping into Cecilia’s world when minor character Tom Baxter (Jeff Daniels) takes notice of the woman who keeps coming to see his movie and decides to step off the screen to be with her. The brilliance of the conceit is that there is no question about whether or not this is Cecilia’s fantasy; it is not and we see the hilarious ways the film’s other characters (who, we are told, are not human), producers, and audiences deal with Baxter’s strange leap. Meanwhile, the character expects the real world to function as smoothly as the movies. He’s baffled when he tries to escape from a restaurant where he tried to pay for dinner with phony movie money by getting behind the wheel of a random car that does not automatically start up as soon as he presses the gas.
This is basically Woody Allen’s take on the popular eighties trope of an alien falling in love with a normal person (see Starman, Splash, E.T., etc.), and it plays out with the director’s signature pathos, humor, and honesty—he may love those old Hollywood movies as much as Cecilia does, but like her he ultimately refuses to accept escapism as a viable way to live. Yet it is Farrow who truly sells the conceit with Cecilia’s wide-eyed openness, infectious love of the movies, and underlying sadness. Annie Hall may be Allen’s best movie, and Bananas may be his funniest, but The Purple Rose of Cairo is my favorite. It comes to blu-ray from Twilight Time, though the film’s soft, sepia aesthetic is not the greatest for showcasing the wonders of hi-def. Still, the disc looks true to the film and is only occasionally invaded by a white speck or two. As usual for Twilight Time, there is an isolated music score track, and as usual for a Woody Allen home video, there are no other extras.
Get The Purple Rose of Cairo blu-ray on Screen Archives.com here.